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A woman leaves an abusive relationship to begin a new life in a new city, where she forms an unlikely and ironic relationship with a suicidal hit man (unbeknownst to her). Enter a worn, alcoholic detective to form the third party in a very unusual triangle as this story begins to unfold. Written by
an example of performances making the biggest difference
The Merry Gentlemen has the makings, and perhaps even the trappings, of a predictable neo-noir involving a hit-man (Michael Keaton), a detective (Bastounes) and the woman that they're both eying (Kelly MacDonald), and the elements of crime floating all about. But Keaton brings to the table as a first-time director an absolutely unbreakable grasp of what makes the scene(s) work from an actor's stand-point. Ironically for an actor who usually makes his mark in movies as someone with a lot of nervous energy or something that makes him quirky or mysterious (i.e. Batman/Bruce Wayne, Beetlejuice, Jackie Brown), here he's subdued, almost like Alain Deleon in Melville's movies. He doesn't say much, but when he does you listen, especially as his character Logan has pneumonia or carries a Christmas tree.
On his own end Keaton's got his character covered wonderfully. That leaves the other two, and one other actor that should be noted. MacDonald is quickly becoming an example of a perfect character actress. It's hard for me to see her becoming a full-blown A-list star, even a decade or more after she hit the scene in her debut in Trainspotting, but when she comes into a role, usually in the supporting variety (most recently No Country for Old Men and Choke) you feel her presence incredibly. She's so vulnerable and adorable, so keen on how her character should be in every moment, as someone who's fragile, been messed with by her husband, but wants to have her space while at the same time being friendly to both the lonely hit-man and the desperate cop. It's hard for me to see a flaw in her performance, and maybe helps elevate things another notch or two. Ditto for Bastounes, one of those actors you swear you've seen somewhere else but actually has only been in one (or none) features before this. He, too, makes a mark playing off both MacDonald like at the restaurant or Keaton in a pivotal scene at the tailor.
There's another actor I should also credit, though at the moment I forget his name: he plays MacDonald's character's husband, and he appears out of the darkness in a scene, a recovering abuser with a newfound Jesus addiction who tries to win back his wife's heart as she holds a knife to him. It's one of the best, creepiest dramatic scenes I've yet seen this year. And while I praise his and the other principles performances, the rest of the film around them is... well, good, watchable, though nothing wholly remarkable. At times Keaton is still finding his footing with style, keeping some shots engaging and others just doing a big pan or reveal where it wouldn't be necessary. It's competent work, though, and I would hope to see something else from him; at the least he reveals himself such a fantastic director of his fellow actors (not least of which himself, though as Eastwood shows that's easier done than said) that he may have found a new calling. It's an A-grade acting job amid a decent little B-movie. 7.5/10
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